CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN
Is Al Qaeda About to Strike Again in United States?
Aired October 21, 2002 - 09:19 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Is Al Qaeda about to strike again in the United States? CIA chief George Tenet warned last week that he thinks the terror group is in an execution phase, and the Bush administration is advising Americans to stay alert.
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CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: We have to have extreme vigilance during this period of time, to make certain that we're doing everything we can to secure the homeland, to secure American force abroad, to secure American diplomatic personnel abroad, and that's the focus very much every day of the president.
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ZAHN: And "Time" magazine reports this week that Al Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan. "Time" editor at large Michael Elliot joins us now to talk more about it.
Let's talk about what you've learned from your sources, about the interrogation of prisoners who are talking about the potential of a spectacular attack against Americans, and they're not talking abroad, are they?
MICHAEL ELLIOT, "TIME" EDITOR AT LARGE: Absolutely not. Our information is there's been a lot of chatter in the interrogations with people that we've detained around the world, who insist that there is something really, really big coming up. It could be talking, it could be bravado. But when you put that together with other bits of evidence, like something that essentially looks like a campaign now. We had the bombing of the French ship, we had the shooting in Kuwait, number of bombings in the Philippines, and of course Bali. You put this together with the chatter from the interrogations, and I think everyone is really, really nervous that there may be something big in the works again.
ZAHN: What did you make of thing of George Tenet's remarks that scared the -- can I say this word? The hell out of all of us.
ELLIOT: It sure did. Now again, one has to be careful. There are a lot of people in the CIA and the other intelligence organizations, who don't want to make the same mistake that was made in 2001. They want to be sure they give clear warning of what it is that they are fearing. But I think that the Tenet's comments to the congressional committee last week indicate a genuine sense on the part of the CIA and others that this is a really, really dangerous period, and that we have -- people have been saying it's a dangerous period since September 11th.
My extent to which they are serious about this at the moment is graver than I've detected in the last few months.
ZAHN: Are we learning about specific targets coming through in this chatter?
ELLIOT: No. I think the thing that is particularly pertinent at the moment is that if you look at the pattern over last month, there has been attacks everywhere except the United States. And I think that's one of the reasons why the intelligence community are being extraordinarily careful in saying to people that the United States is not necessarily going to go scot-free, that there may be attacks here on cities in the U.S., not just Washington and New York that are being looked at carefully, but others as well. They are extraordinary nearly worried, I know, about conventional attacks on chemical plants or nuclear plants. So there's a really heightened sense of fear, frankly, at the moment.
ZAHN: And you say it's a genuine concern on CIA director's George Tenet's part, but he also scared us when he talked about the fact that the U.S. really is in no better shape now than it was pre- September 11th to deal with this kind of prospect?
ELLIOT: I think one has to be realistic here. I mean, this is a country with a massive open border to the north, along with Canada, essentially open border to the south with Mexico, with ships and trucks coming in the whole time. And it's one of the things to be valued. It's an open society to which people can come relatively freely and in which they can move around very, very freely. So one can never be 100 percent concern.
ZAHN: George Elliott, editor at large for "Time" magazine, appreciate you dropping by.
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